Article: “The Common Word”: Reflections on Muslim-Christian Dialogue – By Khalil Andani
December 5, 2011 Leave a Comment
“Say: O People of the Book! Come to a common word between us and you: that we shall worship none but God, and that we shall ascribe no partner unto Him, and that none of us shall take others for lords beside God. And if they turn away, then say: Bear witness that we are they who have surrendered (unto Him).”
(Holy Qur’an 3:64)
A unique feature of the modern age is the encounter taking place between people who belong to different religious traditions. Unfortunately, some have branded the particular encounter between Muslims and non-Muslims as a “clash of civilizations” when it is actually a “clash of ignorance”. An important aspect of such an encounter is the dialogue between Christians and Muslims – adherents of the two largest faiths in the world – and in this article I present a reflection on how such a dialogue can be approached from the eyes of a Muslim.
The Qur’an instructs Muslims to invite people to the recognition of God but also prescribes a specific manner in which this should be performed:
“Call unto the way of thy Lord with wisdom and fair exhortation, and debate with them in the most beautiful manner…”
(Holy Qur’an 16:125)
This verse is often taken to refer to what Muslims today call da’wah – summoning people to the faith of Islam – and has taken many forms including preaching, debates, arguments, etc. I ask us to direct our attention especially to the words “debate with them in the most beautiful manner” (jadilhum bi allatee hiya ahsanu) – with emphasis on the term ahsan (the superlative quality of “most beautiful”. In the modern age, I would like to propose a method of dialogue – which is in fact a da`wah based on knowledge as opposed to adversarial debate or polemic – that seeks to fulfill the spirit of the Qur’anic emphasis on beautiful discourse. The objective of such a “da’wah of knowledge” (da’wah ilmiyyah) is to attain “recognition” of one another – something which the Qur’an mentions as the very purpose of human diversity:
“O mankind! We created you from male and female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other (lita‘arafoo).”
(Holy Qur’an 49:13)
This “recognition” (ma‘rifah) can only occur if all participants in the dialogue (as opposed to an adversarial debate) are permitted to clearly present the principles of their faith tradition whereby all parties are able to truly understand each others’ positions. This is the only antidote to the “clash of ignorance” which has sometimes paralyzed such engagements. In light of this objective, I would like to propose some steps a Muslim can take in participating in such a dialogue involving Christians:
1. Familiarity with the theology of Christianity: This does not mean having a superficial understanding, nor does it mean knowing the Bible for the purposes of only refuting Christianity. But it means having a thorough knowledge of Christian doctrines and creeds including the Trinity, Christology, Crucifixion, etc. This means understanding what Christian’s believe and why they believe it. However, understanding is not the same as believing. Just because one understands Christianity very deeply, it does not mean that one subscribes to its truth claims. Many people often confuse the two and for this reason never bother in trying to understand the theological beliefs of other faiths.
2. Familiarity with the theology of Islam (and its various schools of theology and philosophy including Ash‘arite kalam, philosophy, Shi‘ite and Sufi theosophy): Islamic thought and theology has historically not been monolithic but diverse. Knowledge of this theological diversity allows one to locate the symbolic parallels of Christian theology within Islamic theology. A symbolic parallel is the realization that “X” is to Christians what “Y” is to Muslims.
3. Introduce the symbolic parallels in the Muslim-Christian dialogue. This first requires empathizing with the beliefs of the Christian interlocutor. The purpose here is not to debate, attack or confront Christian beliefs, but to actually affirm our understanding of them. Once this is accomplished, then one can introduce the symbolic parallels that are found in Islam. This allows the Christian to appreciate Islamic beliefs for what they are by intellectually proceeding along a line of correspondence – an “intellectual bridge” so to speak – which effectively begins at Christian doctrinal symbolism doctrine and leads to Islamic doctrinal symbolism.
All this may seem abstract at this point, so it helps to demonstrate this method through a practical example. This example will evoke one the most contentious issues which separate Christianity and Islam – the Christian doctrine of the Divine Sonship of Christ – which Muslims reject. However, the application of the above method to this specific Christian belief can actually allow a Christian to come to a deeper understanding and appreciation of the Qur’an being the Word of God for Muslims and likewise, clear up Muslim misconceptions of Christian theology.
Understanding what Jesus as the Son of God means to Christians requires setting aside our biases and pre-conceived notions. It is true that the Qur’an criticizes the notion of God begetting a son and thus Muslims find this belief blasphemous. However, it should be realized that when Christians take Christ as the Son of God – it is not in a literal, biological sense. The Sonship of Christ, for Christians, is not biological or physical but rather intellectual and metaphysical. Christian doctrine actually rejects any notion of biological descent between Jesus and God. Contrary to popular belief, Christians do not revere Jesus as the Son of God merely on account of his virgin birth without a human father. Jesus is called the Son of God by Christians because he is understood to be the human incarnation of a pre-existent entity known as the Logos. It is this pre-existent Logos which is actually called the “Son of God”. The Gospel of John and the early Christian Church fathers often referred to the “Son of God” as the Logos – which literally means “Word”:
“In the beginning was the Word (Logos), and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcomeit.”
(Gospel of John 1:1-5, Holy Bible, New International Version)
The Logos or Word of God, which Christians today call the “Son of God”, is the instrument by which God creates the Cosmos, communicates to humanity, and is that which became incarnate in the historical Jesus. For Christians, the Word of God is called “Son of God” because this Word is “from God” and simultaneously, the Word “is God” because it is of the same essence or nature as God Himself. This latter point was, of course, heavily debated in the first centuries after Christ and the Christian Councils took the position that the Son or Word of God was uncreated, eternal and consubstantial with God Himself (which became known as the “Father”). For Christians, the terms “Son” and “begotten” symbolically serve to express the intellectual and metaphysical relationship between God and His Word. Jesus Christ for Christians is the incarnation of the uncreated, eternal Word of God (Son of God) and thus, Christ is the primary “Revelation” of God for Christians.
Having appreciated the subtleties of Christian theology, the next step is to locate the symbolic parallels, if any, which exist within Islamic theology. Obviously, there is no concept of “Son of God” in the Islamic tradition due to which most interfaith dialogues break down at this point. But an acquaintance with Christian theology – as summarized above – reveals that the term “Son of God” is merely the Christian designation for the “Word of God” or Logos. This latter term, however, is very much present in Islamic theology. Like Christians, Muslims also subscribe to the belief in God’s uncreated and eternal Word (kalimah) or Speech (kalaam). The Qur’an mentions God’s creative Word in many verses such as the following:
They say: “God hath begotten a son.” Glory be to Him – nay to Him belongs all that is in the heavens and on earth: everything renders worship to Him. To Him is the primal origin of the heavens and the earth: When he decreeth a matter, He said to it: ‘”Be” and it is.
(Holy Qur’an 2:116-117)
What is interesting about the above verse is that while the Qur’an rejects the literal notion of God giving birth to a son, it does mention the reality of God’s Word, “Be”, by which He creates the heavens and the earth. In Islam, the Holy Qur’an is the revealed Word of God – just as in Christianity, Jesus Christ is the incarnate Word of God. In this sense, there is a clear symbolic parallel between Christ in Christianity and the Qur’an in Islam. In other words, Christ is to Christians what the Qur’an is to Muslims. Interestingly, in the formative period of Islam, there was also a debate about whether the Qur’an was created or uncreated which in many ways paralleled the earlier Christian debates concerning the divinity of the Son or Word of God. The majority Muslim position, which is present in Ash‘arite theology, is that the Qur’an in its substance is the uncreated and eternal Word of God. However, for Muslims, the Word of God is not God; it is merely the Word of God – an eternal attribute of God. But in Christianity, the Word of God is God. This remains one of the major points which separate the Islamic and Christian theology.
All this still serves to establish a parallelism between the Qur’an for Muslims and Christ for Christians and this parallelism, I submit, establishes a way by which adherents of each faith can begin to dialogue and empathize with one another. This has also been pointed out by a many scholars of religion, two of which are quoted below:
“Muslims and Christians have been alienated partly by the fact that both have misunderstood each other’s faith by trying to fit it into their own patterns. The most usual error is to suppose (on both sides) that the roles of Jesus Christ inChristianity and of Muhammad in Islam are comparable… If one is drawing parallels in terms of the structure of the two religions, what corresponds in the Christian scheme to the Qur’an is not the Bible but the person of Christ – it is Christ who is for Christians the revelation of (from) God.”
(Wilferd Cantwell Smith, Islam in Modern History, New American Library, 1959, 17-1
“But in order to understand what the Quran means to Muslims and why the Prophet is believed to be unlettered according to Islamic belief, it is more significant to consider this comparison from another point of view. The Word of God in Islam is the Quran; in Christianity it is Christ.”
(Seyyed Nasr, Ideals and Realities of Islam, London: George Allen and Unwin, 1966, 43)
Muslims can better understand Christianity and particularly the role of Christ for Christians by reflecting upon the status of the Qur’an in Islam. Similarly, Christians can better understand the Muslim reverence of the Qur’an by reflecting on the nature of Christ. This gives Muslim and the Christian a starting point within their own religious tradition by which to begin truly understanding and empathizing with the other. For example, the Arabic language of the Qur’an including its sounds, reading, verses, and structure are the symbolic parallel of the “body and blood” of Christ for Christians.
The parallels also extend to the role of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him and his progeny) and the Virgin Mary (peace be upon her). In Islam, the Prophet Muhammad is the bearer of the Word of God as the Qur’an and the pure vessel through which the Qur’an was revealed to the world. Similarly, in Christianity, it is the Virgin Mary who is the bearer of the Word of God as Christ and the pure vessel by which Christ was born into the world. The illiteracy of the Prophet parallels the virginity of Mary. Just as the illiteracy of the Prophet demonstrates the miraculous nature of the Qur’an, the virginity of Mary proves the miraculous nature of Christ.
Certain correlations can also be drawn with regards to ritual practices. When a Muslim recalls that Christ is the Word of God for Christians, and that therefore Christ’s body and blood are the expressions of the Divine Word, then the Christian ritual of the Eucharist whereby the Christian partakes in the blood and body of Christ becomes intelligible. The Eucharistic rite, when its symbolism is decoded, is essentially a ritual whereby a Christian “takes in” or “internalizes” the Word of God as represented in Christ. In Islam, there is a similar ritual whereby a Muslim also “internalizes” the Divine Word: this is the very act of Qur’anic recitation – performed even during the salat – whereby the supplicant vocalizes and thus “internalizes” the Word of God as manifest in the Qur’an(Note 1). In the deepest sense, the “Common Word” between Christianity and Islam is the uncreated and eternal “Word of God” around which both faiths are oriented and while this realization does not resolve all the theological differences between the two faiths, it can serve as the basis for a fruitful dialogue.
Far from serving as a dividing line, Muslim and Christian theological beliefs can actually serve as a bridge towards greater and deeper understanding. Rather than debating about the divinity of Christ or the authenticity of the Qur’an, Muslims and Christians would better spend their time understanding and empathizing with each other’s deepest convictions. This is the objective of the “da’wah of knowledge” whereby the principles of each faith tradition can be communicated in “the most beautiful” of ways such that we all may “know one another”.
Such an engagement, of course, does not resolve theological differences nor does it seek to do so. However, the authentic knowledge (ma’rifah) of “self” as well as the “other”, can lead both sides to a deep and profound sense of mutual respect which theological disagreement cannot overcome. In closing, it is best to refer to an example from the lifetime of the Prophet Muhammad (may peace be upon him and his progeny).
One of the earliest Muslim chroniclers, Ibn Ishaq, records that the Prophet (peace be upon him and his progeny) received a Christian delegation from Najran in 631 AD. The purpose of this meeting was to engage in theological debate over the nature of Christ. Although the Prophet and the Christians never reached a theological agreement, the Prophet invited and allowed the Christian delegation to pray and accomplish their liturgical rites in his own masjid. This perhaps shows that disagreement on the plane of doctrine (aqeedah) can co-exist with a deeper and more profound sense of respect and empathy on the level of worship (ibadah).
Note 1 – The analogy between the Christian Eucharist and the Islamic salat is also noted by Mahmoud Ayoub in “The Word of God in Islam”, The Greek Orthodox Theological Review, Volume 31, No. 1-2, 1986, 69-78.
Texas Pax Christi 2012 State Conference hosts an Interfaith Forum
Where in the World Is Compassion?
Creating Ongoing Relationships for the Common Good
Join us for interfaith discussions, panel discussions, and prominent speakers at a Conference on Compassion. Listen to voices from diverse faiths and create relationships for the common good. These events are shared in the context of the Charter for Compassion charterforcompassion.org/site/ which all are invited to endorse and to participate in building Cities of Compassion.
‘Don’t restrict compassion to own group:’ Karen Armstrong
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Even though she criticizes religious leaders for turning their backs on compassion, famed author Karen Armstrong stood up for Buddha, Jesus, Confucius and other luminaries during her extended visit to Metro Vancouver.
The author of many best-selling books, including The History of God, responded to complaints religion has been a source of violence by telling a Simon Fraser University audience this week to not forget secular movements have also been destructive.
“Let me put in a word for religion,” Armstrong said. Both Buddha and Jesus, she explained, responded to their chaotic times by bearing “witness to a different way of living” – to an ethos that counters selfishness.
Armstrong, arguably the planet’s most popular author on world religions, made her remarks during a 12-day blitz for compassion in Vancouver, which wraps up Friday.
Given global demographic changes, it’s a vital question. “The most certain prediction that we can make about almost any modern society is that it will be more diverse a generation from now than it is today,” the political scientist Robert D. Putnam has written. “This is true from Sweden to the United States and from New Zealand to Ireland.”
In the United States, the question holds special significance for the simple reason that American society is highly religious and highly diverse and — on matters concerning faith — considerably more politically polarized than a quarter-century ago.
The United States prides itself on welcoming people of different faiths. The Bill of Rights begins with a guarantee of freedom of worship. In 1790, George Washington sent a letter to a Jewish congregation in which he expressed his wish that they “continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants,” and declared that the government “gives to bigotry no sanction.” In 2010, Mayor Bloomberg’s impassioned and courageous defense of the Cordoba House — the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque” — became an important addition to a long and noble tradition of inclusion. (It’s a speech worth reading.)
But while there have been widespread efforts over the past generation to promote and celebrate ethnic and racial diversity — everything from “Sesame Street” to multicultural studies to work force sensitivity training — the one topic that has often been kept off the table is faith. Americans have grown more comfortable talking about race, ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation, but not faith. It’s too personal, too divisive, too explosive. How do you conduct a productive conversation among people whose cherished beliefs — exclusive God-given truths — cannot be reconciled?
That’s a process that a Chicago-based organization called the Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC) has refined into something between an art and a science, demonstrating how to bring college students together across faith and belief lines so that they develop greater respect, comfort and appreciation for one another and their traditions.
An Interfaith Leadership Institute event in Washington, D.C., in 2011.Along the way, IFYC has systematized a process for cultivating interfaith leaders and a blueprint for organizing Better Together campaigns, campus-based interfaith engagements that produce reliably positive outcomes, according to students and faculty. Last year, the organization trained students who ran campaigns on 106 campuses. Over the next five years, IFYC plans to spread its message and work to 1,500 colleges.
“We can shape environments and programs to produce more of these leaders. We don’t have to wait for God to drop a Martin Luther King Jr. on us,” says IFYC’s founder Eboo Patel, who is a member of President Obama’s Advisory Council on Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships and author of the forthcoming book, “Sacred Ground: Pluralism, Prejudice, and the Promise of America.”
It comes as no surprise that many Americans harbor unfavorable attitudes toward those who hold different beliefs, notably Muslims and Mormons, but also evangelical Christians, Catholics, Jews and, the most disdained group of all, atheists. Large majorities of Americans believe that Islam and Mormonism, for example, have little in common with their own faiths. However, most Americans say that they know little or nothing about Islam or Mormonism. Would their thinking change if they knew, for example, that the most important value in Islam is mercy and that Muslims hold a reverence for Jesus, or that, for Mormons, the most important value is “working to help the poor”?
Most likely — particularly if they got to know people who embodied those values. In their book, “American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us,” Robert D. Putnam and David E. Campbell draw on social science to show how strongly our relationships shape our attitudes about other groups. “We can show in a quite rigorous way that when you become friends with someone of a different faith, it not only makes you more open-minded to people of that faith, it makes you more open-minded about people of all other faiths. It makes you more tolerant generally,” says Putnam. “That’s the fundamental premise of the Interfaith Youth Core’s work.”
IFYC’s Better Together campaigns are based on these insights: the most reliable way to improve attitudes about religious groups is to intentionally foster meaningful relationships across lines and gain “appreciative knowledge” about other faith traditions. The worst thing society can do is to continue what it’s doing today: allowing attitudes to be shaped by the shrillest voices, the voices of intolerance, political expedience and xenophobia. “If we don’t talk openly about faith and bring people from different traditions together, we forfeit the conversation to people who are happy to build barriers,” notes Patel. Quoting the philosopher Michael Sandel, he added, “Fundamentalists rush in where liberals fear to tread.”
What is the secret to facilitating exchanges that lead to meaningful relationships? “You need to begin by focusing on a value that is commonly shared — like mercy, compassion for the poor, care for the environment or service — something that invites people to bring the best of who they are and the best of what their tradition is about,” explains April Mendez, IFYC’s vice president for leadership. “You walk away from a conversation like that inspired and appreciative about the diversity around you.”
Related in Opinion
Op-Ed: I’m a Mormon, Not a Christian.Next, leaders reach out across the campus to bring students together to act on a widely shared value through service. In 2010, for example, students at the University of Illinois engaged thousands of volunteers and sent a million meals to Haitians after the earthquake. This year, students from Ohio University cleaned up a local waterway. At Augustana College, in Rock Island, Ill., they held a Thanksgiving fast-a-thon and raised money for a local homeless shelter. At Dominican University, in River Forest, Ill., they organized a “Speed Faithing” exchange. Elsewhere, students organized blood drives, interfaith dinners, campaigns against sexual violence and assistance for homeless youth — in each instance, reflecting on how their commitment to help others is informed by their beliefs or worldviews.
This is different from the way interfaith dialogues are typically structured. Here, the conversations are led by students, not religious scholars; they intentionally include agnostics and atheists; and they are not focused on religious teachings per se but rather students’ relationship to their faith or their philosophical beliefs.
All this is critical, explained Vatina McLaurin, an incoming junior at Augustana, who helped lead the fast-a-thon campaign and who was raised as a Christian but identifies as an agnostic or “seeker.” “When you’re asking students to engage in conversation about faith,” she said, “it’s important to remind them that they don’t have to speak for their whole religion. They’re just there to talk about their faith or beliefs in a personal way.”
Nor is the goal of an interfaith conversation to arrive at agreement. “Interfaith work isn’t about watering down our religion and coming to some consensus about things,” explains Aamir Hussain, a Muslim student at Georgetown University who helped students from Georgetown and Syracuse University, historic basketball rivals, mobilize a food drive. “It’s about building relationships so we can together serve others.”
Greg Damhorst, an evangelical Christian currently pursuing a combined medical degree and Ph.D. at the University of Illinois, recalled the campaign he worked on to assist Haitians with food. “We had people from every political and religious tradition,” he explained. “Many have been at odds with one another. If you put them in a room with certain topics you could create the most abrasive argument. But we brought them together to help people in need and, through that process, people were inspired by one another — and they learned new things.” Damhorst learned about the Jewish tradition of tikkun olam, or repairing the world, and the importance of service in Islam and Jainism.
It’s not without conflict. Damhorst has gotten pushback from evangelical friends. “Some say that even collaborating with people from other faiths is a disservice — because it affirms the validity of their beliefs,” he said. “Others fear that if they come to the table for an interfaith dialogue, they’re going to be asked to hang up some aspect of their tradition — or maybe even start to question their faith.”
That’s not his experience. He says that his own faith has been strengthened by this work. “When faith is just a series of ideas in your head, one does find it offensive to have it disagreed with,” he says. “But when faith is lived out in action, it’s more impermeable than if it’s just a concept.”
Americans celebrate diversity. But one of the mistaken beliefs about diversity is that it leads to greater tolerance. Putnam’s research indicates that, unless people make a concerted effort to build bridges, diversity leads to greater social fragmentation — with lower rates of trust, altruism and cooperation. “What ethnic diversity does is cause everybody to hunker down and avoid connection,” he explained. “It’s not just the presence of diversity in your neighborhood. You’ve got to actually be doing things with other people in which you have a personal attachment. Diversity is hard, not easy.”
The question that obsesses the IFYC founder Eboo Patel today is how to make interfaith cooperation as much of a social norm as multiculturalism has become. As part of that process, IFYC is providing guidance to a select group of colleges to demonstrate what a college-wide model interfaith program could become.
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Read previous contributions to this series.
.One of them is Dominican University, which is changing its curriculum, redesigning student outcomes, engaging students and faculty, and aligning its academic calendar — all with interfaith cooperation in mind. Donna Carroll, the school’s president, envisions a day when any student who walks across the stage to receive a diploma from Dominican University will have gained a solid understanding of interfaith cooperation. “Because we are educating the next generation of arguably global leaders, it’s part of our responsibility to ensure that this is a component of the educational environment,” Carroll explained. “All you have to do is turn on the news and you can recognize that.”
Indeed, if you take a stroll along the Internet, cable TV, or talk radio, you’ll find no shortage of dire warnings from people who dread a clash of civilizations and often deride interfaith cooperation as naïve. In this vision, safety means maintaining a fortress mentality and keeping a firm divide between us and them. Another path to follow is the one espoused by George Washington, that all Americans “enjoy the good will” of others. To make that hope real, says Patel, people who care about tolerance need to cultivate specific leadership skills today: “We need more people to show how our religious differences fit within the overarching framework of pluralism that is part of the American tradition — this magnificent and glorious idea that people will stand up and fight for.”
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In the name of Allah, Christians can also appreciate Ramadan
By Douglas Todd, Vancouver Sun
With the holy month of Ramadan beginning today, most of Canada's 600,000 Muslims are expected to direct more of their energy toward contemplating Allah.
Despite conventional thinking that Allah is the name of the exclusive god of Muslims, many say Allah can be appreciated by all monotheists, by all people who believe in one ultimate sacred reality.
That's the message Islamic scholar Bruce Lawrence delivered during a pre-Ramadan series of courses offered this month by Simon Fraser University through its Centre for the Comparative Study of Muslim Culture and the international Aga Khan University.
"I'm an Anglo-Mohammedan, a Christian who believes in the Koran," said Lawrence, an acclaimed Islamic scholar from Duke University in North Carolina who, in addition to advising governments about Muslim issues, was profiled in The New Yorker after translating the writings of Osama bin Laden.
During the annual 30 days of Ramadan, during daylight hours most healthy Muslims fast from food, fluids, sexual relations and other bodily enjoyments. The physical self-renunciation is meant to focus their minds on God, who in Arabic is known as Allah.
For decades, Lawrence, an Episcopalian (or Anglican), has gained insight from what the Koran says about Allah. Even though the holy book has difficult passages, Lawrence generally finds it "a very satisfying and calming book. I love its lyrical and bracing quality."
The author of Who is Allah? and many other titles said he regrets that some people misunderstand the concept of Allah, falsely assuming Muslims believe Allah is an essentially different god than the one revered by Jews and Christians. Lawrence's non-doctrinaire view of Muslim attitudes and theology is reinforced by SFU Islamic specialist Derryl MacLean, who says "the name, Allah, is simply the name attached to the god of all humanity, and not simply the Muslim god."
Indeed, even though Allah is the most common name the world's 1.2 billion Muslims use for God, some Muslims use different terms for the ultimate reality, said MacLean, author of the new book, Cosmopolitan-ism in Muslim Contexts. "Persian Muslims use the Farsi word 'Khuda' [also meaning God]," MacLean said, before adding, "And Arab Christians often use the word 'Allah' for their deity." To reinforce the Islamic teaching that Allah is the god of all people, one 17th-century Muslim mystic, Dara Shikoh, began one of his books with the phrase: "In the name of the One God who has no name. No matter what name you use, He will respond."
This broad-minded attitude appears to hold sway in many Metro Vancouver mosques, where non-Muslims are often welcomed to take part in services with some of the city's roughly 80,000 Muslims, who hail from all over the world, especially Iran, Pakistan, India and Africa.
At Al-Salaam mosque on Canada Way in Burnaby, for instance, spokesman Imaad Ali (who attended evangelical Christian Trinity Western University in Langley) urged Christians and others to join with his fellow Muslims in daily rituals and prayers.
For his part, Lawrence emphasized that another effective way for both non-Muslims and Muslims to gain access to Allah, the universal divine, is through reflecting on Islam's "99 names for God." The Islamic scholar especially values the first three of the 99 alternative names for Allah, since they refer to the importance of modelling God's compassion, mercy and forgiveness.
Asked why he describes him-self on his website as a "cosmopolitan advocate of Christian-Muslim synergy," Lawrence said most great religious leaders - including Buddha and Jesus, who was Jewish - learned from a variety of traditions. "Every-one who is deeply into religion," he said, "often draws on more than one source."
The 8 Most Important Interfaith Monuments in the World
Craig Considine Sociologist, Speaker, Writer
Posted: 02/03/2015 11:26 am EST Updated: 02/03/2015 11:59 am EST
The following short collection lists eight of the most important monuments in the world in terms of interfaith dialogue and interfaith relations. By the term "monument" I refer to a building or structure created to commemorate a person, event, or social bond which has significance in regards to improving relations between the Abrahamic faiths.
The eight monuments documented here stand on the Asian, African, European, and North American continents in countries such as Israel, Turkey, India, Egypt, and the US. The monuments shed light upon key figures throughout history, as well as important events which have shaped Judaism, Christianity, and Islam over the last 1,000 or so years. My focus here is on events surrounding Jews, Christians, and Muslims, however, that is not to overlook the equally important interfaith monuments pertaining to non-Abrahamic faiths around the world.
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem
The Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the most revered shrine in Christendom, stands in the walled Old City of Jerusalem. The Church, which was built on the site of the crucifixion, tomb, and resurrection of Jesus, has been protected by two Palestinian Muslim families - the Nuseibehs and Joudehs - for over 1,000 years.
The Holy Sepulchre has an uneasy state of affairs as it is managed by five different Christian denominations including Roman Catholics, Greek Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, Coptic and Syrian Orthodox, and Ethiopian Orthodox. On several occasions over the years, these Christian factions have fought each other over who controls the space within the church. The Nuseibeh and Joudeh families have helped to keep the peace between these rival groups. Let's hope that they continue to do so in the future.
Maimonides Statue in Old Jewish Quarter, Cordoba, Spain
In Tiberiadus Square in the Old Jewish Quarter of Cordoba, Spain stands a statue of Moses Maimonides, a great Jewish philosopher who flourished as an intellectual leader under Muslim rule.
Between the years 711 and 1085, Muslim-ruled Spain sustained a harmonious society under the guiding principle of convívencía - which can literally be translated as "living with-ness," or "requiring tolerance." This policy ushered in a "Jewish Golden Age" in which Maimonides was its shining star.
Maimonides was a scholar of utmost distinction, producing key Jewish texts such as the "Mishneh Torah," a 14-volume text on Jewish law, and his most famous work, "The Guide for the Perplexed," which struck a balance between religious and secular knowledge. His scholarship was not only influenced by Plato and Greek philosophy, but also Al-Ghazali and Sufi thought.
The Maimonides statue represents tolerance and mutual admiration between Muslims and Jews, and also serves as a link between Western/Christian and Jewish thought. His life's work in Muslim Spain reminds us of the power in the great Jewish saying of "tikkun olam," "to heal a fractured world."
The Tri-Faith Center, Omaha, Nebraska
The Tri-Faith Initiative, an interfaith organization in Omaha, Nebraska, recently developed a plan to build the Tri-Faith Center. The concept, as KETV reports, is to "build a Jewish temple, Islamic center, and Episcopalian church all on one property and connected by walkways that meet at a tri-faith center meant to encourage education and understanding." The architects purposely built these structures next to each other in order to educate people on the importance of interfaith dialogue.
According to the Initiative's website, the Tri-Faith Center "will welcome people of all faiths and will become a model for peaceful co-existence that builds on America's promise of religious freedom and our desire for understanding."
While recent news suggests that the Initiative may become "Bi-Faith" - or only Christian and Jewish - there is still hope for the creation of the Tri-Faith Center, a project which shows that three faiths can learn "to live together in peace without watering down anyone's faith."
Shrine of Rumi, Konya, Turkey
This grandiose building, which functions as both a museum and shrine, is the resting place of Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi, the 13th century mystic Sufi Muslim poet popularly referred to as Rumi.
Rumi's sublimely beautiful poetry often touched upon pluralism and love of humanity by focusing on how groups such as Jews, Christians, and Muslims had much in common. His life philosophy is reflected in the following lines:
Whoever you may be, come
Even though you may be
An infidel, a pagan, or a fire-worshipper, come
Our brotherhood is not one of despair
Even though you have broken
Your vows of repentance a hundred times, come.
The overarching theme in Rumi's poetry is his unending love not simply for Muslims, but for all humanity. In his poem "Love is the Master," he described himself as being "mastered totally by love." Another poem, "I am a child of love," states, "Love is my religion and my faith ... My God is love." Clearly Rumi did not limit his affection to those closest to him.
Each year on December 17th, pilgrims from around the world descend upon this shrine to celebrate the life of the great mystic. In doing so the pilgrims bridge the Muslim world and the West at this period of great mistrust and violence.
Bradford Reform Synagogue, Bradford, UK
The grand-looking Bradford Reform Synagogue is on an unassuming street, between the Yorkshire Tandoori, Al-Hijaab Islamic Clothing and the Jamia Shan-E-Islam Educational Centre. Built in 1880, the Synagogue has long been under threat of closure, but several Muslim organisations in the city recently raised a large sum of money to save the tiny Jewish community.
Zulfi Karim, secretary of Bradford Council of Mosques, spearheaded the fundraising campaign. He now calls Rudi Leavor, the Synagogue's rabbi, as his "big brother." Karim adds, "[i]t makes me proud that we can protect our neighbors and at the same time preserve an important part of Bradford's cultural heritage."
The Muslim efforts to save the synagogue shatters the myth that Jews and Muslims are eternal enemies. Nothing could be more important than this act of kindness considering that Jewish-Muslim hostility has risen across the world over the last few years.
The Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey
The Hagia Sophia, a massive structure meaning "Holy Wisdom," is located in the heart of Istanbul, and has been a church or mosque since its creation by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian in 537.
At the time of its creation, the church was dedicated to Logos, the Wisdom of God, or the second person of the Holy Trinity. The building, which was converted into a mosque after Constantinople (modern-day Istanbul) was conquered by the Ottoman Turks in 1453, inspired Muslim architects who later went on to design some of Istanbul's most marvelous mosques.
Hagia Sophia is no longer a place of worship, but rather an "interfaith museum" which displays art and relics from Christendom's and Islam's glorious histories. The building represents how these two great faiths are forever intertwined with one another.
The Turkish parliament recently introduced a bill that would change the status of Hagia Sophia from a museum, which it has been since 1935, to a mosque. Converting the Holy Wisdom from an interfaith monument into a mosque "could deepen the wedge between the [Turkish] government and its delicate relations with its Christian minority."
Saint Catherine's Monastery, Mount Sinai, Egypt
One of the oldest Christian communities in the world, Saint Catherine's Monastery on Mount Sinai, Egypt is home to Prophet Muhammad's covenant in which he guarantees Christian monks protection and freedom of religion. The Monastery, a UNESCO-designated World Heritage Site, is a symbol of tolerance and dialogue between Christians and Muslims.
John Andrew Morrow, in his book "The Covenants of the Prophet Muhammad with the Christians of the World," provides a detailed account of the origins and importance of the covenant. As Morrow notes in the book, which I reviewed here, Muhammad expected that Muslims would enter into a bond of spiritual solidarity with the non-Muslims in their midst.
Saint Catherine's was recently in the news because Ahmed Ragai Attiya, an Egyptian general, called for the demolition of the monastery's multiple churches, monks cells, garden, and other places of interest. Such an act would be a terrible betrayal of Prophet Muhammad's message of peace and goodwill to Christians worldwide.
The Ibidat Khana, Fatehpur Sikri, India
Akbar the Great, Mughal Emperor in the mid-to-late 16th century, built the Ibidat Khana, or "House of Worship," in the city of Fatehpur Sikri, India. The original purpose of the Khana was to serve Muslims as they engaged in discussions and debates over Islam.
However, as these events took shape, Akbar became frustrated with the petty debates within the structure. Unhappy that these Muslims discussed religious practice and God through a narrow Islamic spectrum, the Mughal Emperor turned the Khana into an edifice where people of all religions could gather to participate in interfaith dialogue. One particular historian called the building a place where "Wisdom and deeds would be tested ... Those who were founded on truth entered the hall of acceptance."
The Ibidat Khana became a symbol of Akbar the Great's legacy. Historian Muhammad Abdul Baki said that Akbar "would recognize no difference between [religions], his object being to unite all men in a common bond of peace."
Although the Ibidat Khana no longer exists above ground, a trip to the foundations of the Mughal Empire in Fatehpur Sikri can nevertheless elevate the spirit in praise of God.
Christians, Muslims Heed Interfaith Call To Fight ISIS With Muhammad’s Peaceful Message
“It is time for all faiths to come together and say in one voice: ‘Not in our name!’” Dr. John Andrew Morrow, one of the forces behind a new interfaith movement to stand in peaceful opposition to ISIS and extremist groups like it, tells MintPress.
By Catherine Shakdam | August 17, 2015
LONDON — A country in the throes of war, America has been battling an ever elusive enemy: radicalism. A force with many names and many masks, this threat appears to have compounded into the self-proclaimed Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, arguably the world’s fiercest and most immediate enemy.
Because of a self-professed affiliation with Islam, ISIS and other violent fundamentalist groups like it have left Muslims around the world to constantly defend themselves and justify their faith against the fury of fundamentalism. Often attacked and accused of harboring “genocidal” sentiments toward Christians and Jews, Muslims have suffered many humiliations because of the folly of a psychotic minority.
Yet one Islamic scholar has vowed not to allow his faith to be slandered or exploited to hateful ends. Dr. John Andrew Morrow, a Canadian-born cleric, researcher and author, is building a movement to oppose terror at its root and inspire an interfaith network strong enough to weather the storm of intolerance.
“Rather than argue theology with blood-thirsty savages, we thought instead to lead by example. In Islam we had a tradition that was cultivated for over a thousand years called futuwwa, or chivalry. Muslims used to compete with each other in nobility. As Imam Ali said: ‘Be a friend of the oppressed and an enemy of the oppressors,’” Morrow told MintPress News.
With America’s military superpower securing just a few victories against ISIS, Morrow and others sympathetic to his cause have decided to step in and offer a different approach to this war of faiths.
“ISIS is more than just a threat to world powers and world nations, ISIS is the very negation of civilization. It seeks to destroy to better subjugate. This group’s sole purpose has been to annihilate a region’s historical, religious, ethnic and social heritage to impose its dogma over the ruins of a people’s soul,” Rabbi Meir Hirsch from the Neturei Karta, a Jewish organization that denounces Zionism as antithetical to Judaism, told MintPress.
Tens of thousands of Yezidis fell under ISIS fire last year in Iraq, pinned by its militants in the most abject conditions. This centuries-old religious community, rooted in the ancient land of Mesopotamia, faces complete annihilation. Recalling the horror of ISIS’ brutal campaign against Iraq’s Yezidis, a report in the Huffington Post early this month reads:
“One year ago this week, the self-proclaimed Islamic State in the Levant — otherwise known as ISIS — perpetrated a genocide against the Yazidi in Sinjar. Tens of thousands of men, women and children fled to Mount Sinjar, where they were trapped for days. Hundreds were massacred by ISIS, and dozens of lives were taken by starvation and dehydration. A U.N. report noted other gross human rights abuses, forced conversions and the abduction of women and girls.”
An estimated 500,000 Yezidis now risk death under the rule of ISIS’ self-proclaimed leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
The Yezidis are not unique in being marked for death by ISIS. The militant organization targets Christians, Alawites, Shiite Muslims and Sufis, as well. Even Sunni Muslims have been persecuted, although ISIS claims itself from this creed.
The Islam of ISIS is rooted in Wahhabism, a harsh interpretation of the Scriptures which advocates for the annihilation of all dissenting voices.
President Barack Obama held a lecture at American University on Aug. 5, where he discussed alternatives to war and military intervention in general, aiming to instead achieve peace through diplomacy. And though Obama was alluding to Iran and the recently inked Iran nuclear agreement, Morrow, American poet and metaphysician Charles Upton, and Detroit-based Bishop Francis Kalabat of the Eastern Rite uniate churches, among others, also recognize the wisdom in not giving in to military impulses to bring about peace.
They choose to look toward mutual support and religious solidarity to oppose the creeping advances of radicalism, opting to defeat terror ideology with religious inclusion and tolerance rather than bombs and threats. While such interfaith efforts have mainly revolved around a Christian-Muslim collaboration, Morrow is hoping Jewish organizations and other religious denominations will also answer his calls.
Dr. John Morrow and the Covenant Foundation
In October 2013, Dr. John Andrew Morrow published “The Covenants of the Prophet Muhammad and the Christians of the World.” Meant as both a testament and a witness to Islam’s commitment to interfaith solidarity, Morrow’s book has resonated with both Muslims and Christians.
I love you when you bow in your mosque, kneel in your temple, pray in your church.
For you and I are sons of one religion, and it is the spirit.
~ Khalil Gibran
Finding Peace Within the Holy Texts
It’s easy to think that ISIS is some sort of evil, medieval cancer that somehow has resurfaced in the modern world. The rest of us are pursuing happiness, and here comes this fundamentalist anachronism, spreading death.
But in his book “Not in God’s Name: Confronting Religious Violence,” the brilliant Rabbi Jonathan Sacks argues that ISIS is in fact typical of what we will see in the decades ahead.
The 21st century will not be a century of secularism, he writes. It will be an age of desecularization and religious conflicts.
Part of this is simply demographic. Religious communities produce lots of babies and swell their ranks, while secular communities do not. The researcher Michael Blume looked back as far as ancient India and Greece and concluded that every nonreligious population in history has experienced demographic decline.
Humans also are meaning-seeking animals. We live, as Sacks writes, in a century that “has left us with a maximum of choice and a minimum of meaning.” The secular substitutes for religion — nationalism, racism and political ideology — have all led to disaster. So many flock to religion, sometimes — especially within Islam — to extremist forms.
This is already leading to religious violence. In November 2014, just to take one month, there were 664 jihadist attacks in 14 countries, killing a total of 5,042 people. Since 1984, an estimated 1.5 million Christians have been killed by Islamist militias in Sudan.
Sacks emphasizes that it is not religion itself that causes violence. In their book Encyclopedia of Wars, Charles Phillips and Alan Axelrod surveyed 1,800 conflicts and found that less than 10 percent had any religious component at all.
Rather, religion fosters groupishness, and the downside of groupishness is conflict with people outside the group. Religion can lead to thick moral communities, but in extreme forms it can also lead to what Sacks calls pathological dualism, a mentality that divides the world between those who are unimpeachably good and those who are irredeemably bad.
The pathological dualist can’t reconcile his humiliated place in the world with his own moral superiority. He embraces a politicized religion — restoring the caliphate — and seeks to destroy those outside his group by apocalyptic force. This leads to acts of what Sacks calls altruistic evil, or acts of terror in which the self-sacrifice involved somehow is thought to confer the right to be merciless and unfathomably cruel.
That’s what we saw in Paris last week.
Sacks correctly argues that we need military weapons to win the war against fanatics like ISIS, but we need ideas to establish a lasting peace. Secular thought or moral relativism are unlikely to offer any effective rebuttal. Among religious people, mental shifts will be found by reinterpreting the holy texts themselves. There has to be a Theology of the Other: a complex biblical understanding of how to see God’s face in strangers. That’s what Sacks sets out to do.
The great religions are based on love, and they satisfy the human need for community. But love is problematic. Love is preferential and particular. Love excludes and can create rivalries. Love of one scripture can make it hard to enter sympathetically into the minds of those who embrace another.
The Bible is filled with sibling rivalries: Ishmael and Isaac, Esau and Jacob, Joseph and his brothers. The Bible crystallizes the truth that people sometimes find themselves competing for parental love and even competing for God’s love.
Read simplistically, the Bible’s sibling rivalries seem merely like stories of victory or defeat — Isaac over Ishmael. But all three Abrahamic religions have sophisticated, multilayered interpretive traditions that undercut fundamentalist readings.
Alongside the ethic of love there is a command to embrace an ethic of justice. Love is particular, but justice is universal. Love is passionate, justice is dispassionate.
Justice demands respect of the other. It plays on the collective memory of people who are in covenantal communities: Your people, too, were once vulnerable strangers in a strange land.
The command is not just to be empathetic toward strangers, which is fragile. The command is to pursue sanctification, which involves struggle and sometimes conquering your selfish instincts. Moreover, God frequently appears where he is least expected — in the voice of the stranger — reminding us that God transcends the particulars of our attachments.
The reconciliation between love and justice is not simple, but for believers the texts, read properly, point the way. Sacks’s great contribution is to point out that the answer to religious violence is probably going to be found within religion itself, among those who understand that religion gains influence when it renounces power.
It may seem strange that in this century of technology, peace will be found within these ancient texts. But as Sacks points out, Abraham had no empire, no miracles and no army — just a different example of how to believe, think and live.
Pope Francis Ends African Trip With Visit to a Mosque
On his maiden visit to Africa, Pope Francis went where most other dignitaries would not — and he went in ways that won him applause from ordinary people.
In Nairobi, he traveled from the airport in a simple Honda — then visited a slum long accustomed to the ribbon of raw sewage.
In Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic, he crossed a no-man’s land in a war zone, taking off his shoes at the threshold of a mosque, as is Muslim custom, and then speaking of reconciliation across faiths. “Christians and Muslims are brothers and sisters,” he said, a jarring idea in a country where some Muslims and Christians have slaughtered each other for the last two years.
The pope’s six-day swing to Africa, which ended on Monday, was loaded with potent, stirring symbols like this. On a continent brimming with young people, they were meant to appeal to youth, including the disaffected.
In Uganda, he put aside his prepared remarks to champion the courage of a former child soldier. In Kenya, he expressed sympathy for young men and women who lack education and work. And he gave a nod to the one subject that resonates widely with African youth — but did so delicately, so as not to offend the leaders who were hosting him.
“Corruption is something that eats inside; it’s like sugar, it’s sweet, we like it, it’s easy,” Francis said and then, gently, he urged: “Please. Don’t develop that taste.”
What he did not say was equally potent. The Roman Catholic Church in Africa is powerful — and increasingly conservative. And so Francis was silent about the repression of gay men and lesbians in Uganda, despite the hopes of human rights advocates.
He said nothing about child marriage — which is exceptionally high in sub-Saharan Africa — nor about why so many African women continue to die in childbirth. The church officially opposes contraception, and the pope continues to speak of the need to protect the unborn.
On the flight back to Rome, the pontiff tried to deflect a question on whether the church should change its position on the use of condoms to limit the spread of H.I.V.
“I don’t like getting into questions or reflections that are so technical when people die because they don’t have water or food or housing,” he said, according to an Associated Press report.
Francis saved his riskiest venture for last. He spoke in a mosque in a neighborhood of Bangui, called PK-5, where the city’s Muslim minority has been isolated for months. Rival militias stand guard at the gates of the neighborhood, controlling who gets in and out, and the road that links it with the rest of the city is usually eerily deserted.
On Monday, it was an altogether different scene. The barricades broke — at least for a while.
Diane Corner, United Nations deputy special representative, posted on Twitter: “Remember the fall of the Berlin Wall? That’s what border of PK5 looks like. Extraordinary scenes for last 3 hours.”
More than two years of sectarian strife has displaced more than 400,000 people in the Central African Republic, the United Nations estimates. The mosque had been freshly painted for Francis’ visit. The Vatican flag was hoisted in the yard out front. Inside, after speaking with Muslim clerics, Francis appealed for Christian-Muslim unity, as he had throughout his Africa tour.
“Together,” he said, “we must say no to hatred, to revenge and to violence, particularly that violence which is perpetrated in the name of a religion or of God himself.”
WHEN schools in Augusta County, Va., closed earlier this month after parents objected to an Arabic calligraphy lesson, it was tempting to see it as only the latest example of the rampant anti-Muslim sentiment that has taken hold in much of the country.
Yet it was also part of a much older conflict in American education: the inevitable tension between exposure to the cultural expression of various religious traditions and fears that art and music may be tools of evangelization in disguise. During a season that includes Christmas, Hanukkah and some years, including this one, the celebration of Muhammad’s birth, skirmishes like this unfold with the predictability of a holiday pageant.
At Riverheads High School in Staunton, Va., students were introduced to the elaborate calligraphy often used in Arabic religious texts with the Shahada, the basic statement of Islamic faith. Asked to copy the lines and curves of the “testimony,” students would attempt to write “There is no God but God, and Muhammad is the messenger of God,” albeit in an alphabet they could not understand.
Kimberly Herndon, the parent who first took to social media to voice her consternation over this assignment (given by a teacher named Cheryl LaPorte), explained her objections to the lesson this way: “Children were deceived when they were told it was calligraphy. This is not calligraphy. This is a language.”
“When I saw the language, the Arabic language, immediately I had a bad feeling come over me,” she said. “I will not have my children sit under a woman who indoctrinates them with the Islam religion when I am a Christian.”
There is perhaps no greater indication of the potency of religious language than the fear it sometimes inspires. Both those who believe the Shahada and those who don’t appear to agree that some words have spiritual consequences.
Concerned that their faith is being challenged in the classroom, Christians like Ms. Herndon have lately led the charge against supposed religious indoctrination in Virginia, Georgia and Tennessee. They have not had a monopoly on such fears in American history, however.
In fact, what may well be the single largest action taken by parents worried about religious indoctrination in American schools was made not in defense of Christianity, but against it.
In December 1906, a protest movement began within the New York Jewish community objecting to religious activities in elementary schools. With compulsory Christian-themed holiday programs planned during the school day on Christmas Eve, a call went out for a “general strike” that would in some neighborhoods leave classrooms all but abandoned.
“The keeping away of every Jewish child from the public schools,” a writer for The Jewish Daily News said, “will be the most stinging rebuke.” The “Anti-Christmas Strike,” as the non-Jewish press called it, was intended, like the complaints in Augusta County, as a display of parental control over the religious ideas to which children should be exposed.
While the school closings in Virginia and the boycott in New York are not exactly alike, both were incited by cultural exercises some claimed were innocuous, but others insisted were stealth attempts at religious instruction.
In New York 109 years ago, the trouble began when Jewish children were asked to learn such songs as “Birthday of a King,” and a group of community leaders met with the city’s Elementary Schools Committee to complain.
“Objection was made by the Jews to hymns, compositions, pictures and decorations at the Christmas exercises,” The New York Times reported. They “asserted” that “sectarian hymns were sung”; that students were assigned “subjects for compositions” that “treated of the Christ”; and that “pictures of the Madonna and others of similar significance were hung on the walls of many classrooms.”
“We wonder what the Christian population would say,” The Jewish Daily News asked, “if there were introduced in the schools, even when the pupils consist almost entirely of Jewish children, Chanuca exercises in commemoration of the Maccabean victory, with the subterfuge now used by the school board that they are merely social and have nothing to do with religion.” When the school committee failed to address concerns that holiday programs would feature such songs as “Waken! Christian Children” and “Christ Is Born,” more than 20,000 Jewish students boycotted — a third of the student body in predominantly Jewish neighborhoods.
“We are more than satisfied with the splendid showing our Jewish children made in staying away from the schools yesterday,” the editor of The Jewish Morning Journal wrote. “It was not a religious controversy but a manly American stand.”
Obviously, the 1906 boycott did not achieve its goal “to stop forever the practice of holding Christmas exercises in the public schools,” but contrary to The Jewish Daily News’s prediction, today there is nothing controversial about including Hanukkah songs along with Christmas carols in school holiday concerts.
In the long run, the distressed Christian parents in Augusta County will not put an end to schools’ teaching their children about Islam, as state educational standards require. These conflicts will probably come to be remembered, like the anti-Christmas strike, as signposts marking slow progress toward a greater inclusion to come.
This year, New York became the first major American city to close its public schools in recognition of a Muslim holiday. If and when others follow suit, it will rightly be a local decision, yet the negotiation of religious differences this decision represents is part of both the nation’s past and its future.
In the wake of their unlikely calligraphy controversy, administrators at Riverheads High School announced that the Shahada would be replaced in the assignment by a nonreligious example of ornate Arabic writing.
Yet the meaning of the lesson, and the conflict that followed, will remain. Whether you are a member of the majority faith who feels threatened by the increasing visibility of other traditions, or a part of one of the many minority religious communities that have traveled a similar path toward acceptance, there is nothing to fear in learning the power of words you do not believe.
Religious Literacy Project of Harvard Divinity School
The Religious Literacy Project at Harvard Divinity School is dedicated to enhancing and promoting the public understanding of religion. We provide resources and special training opportunities for educators, journalists, public health workers, foreign service officers, interfaith/multifaith groups, students, and others wishing to better understand the complex roles that religions play in contemporary global, national, and local contexts.
Explanation of Need
Religions have functioned throughout human history to inspire and justify the full range of agency from the heinous to the heroic. Their influences remain potent at the dawn of the 21st century in spite of modern predictions that religious influences would steadily decline in concert with the rise of secular democracies and advances in science. Understanding these complex religious influences is a critical dimension of understanding modern human affairs. In spite of this awareness, there remains a widespread illiteracy about religion that spans the globe. There are many consequences of this illiteracy, but the most urgent is that it fuels conflict and antagonisms and hinders cooperative endeavors in all arenas of human experience.
The RLP at HDS
We at HDS are uniquely situated to enhance the public understanding of religion given our longstanding expertise in all of the world’s religious traditions coupled with our over 40 year history focusing on education about religion through various iterations of our teacher education program. The Religious Literacy Project is a new initiative that builds upon both of these legacies and focuses on how to understand the roles that religions play in human experience across political, economic, and cultural spheres with a special focus on contemporary issues related to conflict and peace.
Arenas of Focus
The RLP has three arenas of focus: education, resources, and research.
•Education: Through workshops, webinars, executive education opportunities, courses, conferences, and the Religious Studies and Education Certificate, the Religious Literacy Project provides several venues for individuals and groups within and outside of Harvard to explore how religion functions in contemporary human affairs.
•Resources: The RLP is creating a series of open access resources to enhance the public understanding of religion. Through country profiles, religion profiles, commentaries by Harvard faculty and affiliates on contemporary issues, and resources specifically designed for K-12 educators, the Religious Literacy Project represents how religions are 1) internally diverse; 2) how they evolve and change; and 3) how religious ideologies are embedded in all aspects of human experience.
•Research: The Religious Literacy Project has embarked upon a substantial research initiative to collect data, map, and analyze how religion is taught in K-12 schools in the United States. The Project collects data, maps, and analyzes how teacher education programs address content related to religion and religious diversity within schools and communities. Even though religion is embedded in K-12 humanities and social science curriculum standards as well as in the Common Core Standards, there is no comprehensive information about how religion is taught in schools. Similarly, there is no comprehensive information regarding training for pre-service teachers about the special challenges and opportunities related to teaching about religion in light of First Amendment guidelines in a multireligious society.
Pope Washes Feet of Muslim Migrants at Easter Week Mass
"We have different cultures and religions, but we are brothers and we want to live in peace"
(CASTELNUOVO DI PORTO, Italy) — Pope Francis washed and kissed the feet of Muslim, Christian and Hindu refugees Thursday and declared them all children of the same God, as he performed a gesture of welcome and brotherhood at a time of increased anti-Muslim sentiment following the Brussels attacks.
Francis denounced the carnage as a “gesture of war” carried out by blood-thirsty people beholden to the weapons industry during an Easter Week Mass with asylum-seekers at a shelter in Castelnuovo di Porto, outside Rome.
The Holy Thursday rite re-enacts the foot-washing ritual Jesus performed on his apostles before being crucified, and is meant as a gesture of service. Francis contrasted that gesture with the “gesture of destruction” carried out by the Brussels attackers, saying they wanted to destroy the brotherhood of humanity represented by the migrants.
Germany's government supports the participation of religious leaders in the UN World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul. Terrorism, displacement and lack of safe access to nutrition and health care are on the agenda.
Many religions proclaim their miracles. But is faith capable of driving economic development in poor countries, helping refugees start new lives and denying terror groups a foothold?
Donors and world leaders, German Chancellor Angela Merkel among them, will be asking that question when they meet in Istanbul for the UN World Humanitarian Summit on May 23. In convening the unparalleled global gathering, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said civilization was facing the largest humanitarian catastrophe since World War II.
Religion is at the top of the agenda. At a special session on Monday, selected faith leaders will tell world leaders and NGOs just what role they can play in dealing with a number of humanitarian crises. German Economic Development and Cooperation Minister Gerd Müller will be among those participating. "Religious leaders enjoy great respect in many countries," Müller told DW. "We have to use this potential without losing sight of the fact that religion is also used to justify violence and terrorism."
In an effort to fight terror, Müller's ministry has launched the International Partnership on Religion and Sustainable Development. "Religious communities do a great deal of important work throughout the world when it comes to health services, education, nutrition and caring for refugees," Müller said. About 80 percent of the world's population professes a faith. "That is why you can only make progress with, and not opposed to, various religions on a lot of subjects," Müller said.
Islamic aid organizations in Germany have been open to the minister's initiatives. "The German government is undoubtedly happy that we exist," said Nuri Köseli, the spokesman for Islamic Relief Deutschland. "We have helped a lot in Syria."
The Development Ministry has also worked with the ecclesiastical relief organizations Bread for the World and Misereor for over 50 years and donates about 200 million euro ($227 million) annually toward their projects.
Another summit participant is the Aga Khan Development Network, which has about 80,000 employees and an annual budget of $625 million (550 million euros). It has been led by the Nizari-Ismailis Shiite cleric Aga Khan for the past 60 years.
Despite all efforts to facilitate dialogue and cooperation, a rift has emerged in the various religious camps - even at the World Humanitarian Summit. The International Islamic Relief Organization of Saudi Arabia was excluded from the conference. Founded in 1979 according to a Saudi royal decree, the organization is indeed involved in developmental aid, but it also finances the building of mosques and, according to the UN, is suspected of supporting extremists.
Fighting Ebola together
Islamic Relief Deutschland is one of the biggest donors to the international umbrella organization Islamic Relief Worldwide. Through its national associations and partner offices, IRW is active in 40 countries. In 2014, the association had some 113 million euros on hand for its projects. The British and Swedish Development ministries, UN aid organizations, the European Union, the Lutheran World Federation and the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development (CAFOD) are among IRW's partners.
A shared report by CAFOD and IRW describing the fight against Ebola in West Africa illustrates just how important cooperation among religious leaders can be in crisis zones. Making a religious case, Muslim and Christian clerics did something that national authorities and UN organizations had been unable to: They changed traditional burial rites, thus helping to stop the spread of the epidemic. Until that point, bodily contact with infected corpses had greatly increased the spread of Ebola.
According to the "Keeping the Faith" report by CAFOD, IRW, Christian Aid and Tearfund, a member of the Ebola Task Force said that "Sierra Leone would have saved more lives and more money had religious leaders been engaged at an earlier stage of the disease outbreak."
Baptist church in DeKalb County rallies to help Muslim neighbor
Malik Waliyani arrived at his store last week to find the registers damaged, items stolen and an undetermined amount of cash gone.
Waliyani, who bought the gas station and convenience store three months ago, was devastated.
Insurance probably wouldn’t cover all of his losses.
Carole and Jim Still show up to help Malik Waliyani after a burglary at his store. CONTRIBUTED BY CLARK R. HILL
Then help arrived from an unexpected source.
A member of nearby Smoke Rise Baptist Church heard about the burglary on social media and rallied others in the congregation.
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Malik Waliyani arrived at his DeKalb County store to find burglars had hit it earlier. They ransacked the business and took an undetermined amount of cash. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO
So, after services on Sunday, dozens of members arrived by van, truck and car at the TruBuy BP station on Lilburn-Stone Mountain Road.
They filled up their tanks. They bought candy, soda and chips. One woman bought a candy bar then pushed her change back across the counter.
Jim and Carole Still of Stone Mountain spent $36 in gas and also bought a Diet Coke.
CBF - Smoke Rise 1 720x1280.mov
“He’s our neighbor and we came to help,” said Carole Still. Her husband said he drove around until the gas tank was nearly empty so he could fill up at Waliyani’s store.
“Amazing,” said Waliyani, an Ismaili Muslim who was born in India but has lived in Georgia for about a dozen years. “I couldn’t believe that I would be accepted so greatly by the neighbors and the community around me. They stood by me in my difficult time, and it gives me hope to rise again.”
This is the second time Waliyani has been victimized. In 2012, he was robbed at gunpoint while helping in his uncle’s Norcross store.
The Rev. Chris George, senior pastor of Smoke Rise, which has about 1,800 active members, said the business has been a convenient stop for church members.
The congregation wanted to do something “more than send cards and offer prayers.”
What if the church also offered support in a more tangible way?
“We wanted to be a congregation that is committed to being a good neighbor,” he said.
The burglary happened in the early morning hours of July 11. Masked thieves broke in through an emergency door. When Waliyani arrived at the store later that day, the area behind the counter was a mess. They knocked down the whole counter and ripped out the electrical connections.
“It seems like they knew exactly what to do and they didn’t want to spend any extra seconds (in the store),” he said.
For the past few days, Waliyani had to dig deep into his pockets to have cash on hand for business and to restock merchandise. Video of the incident has been turned over to police.
He is just thankful that it happened when no one was in the store.
He said another church has also offered to help his business.
Some people have offered to help Waliyani, who is married with a young child, with his mortgage and other expenses.
“Of course, I feel very wonderful,” he said. “This will keep me strong, God willing. My faith teaches me that we should build bridges. Even if we follow different religions, we are all human beings.”
ONE puzzle of the world is that religions often don’t resemble their founders.
Jesus never mentioned gays or abortion but focused on the sick and the poor, yet some Christian leaders have prospered by demonizing gays. Muhammad raised the status of women in his time, yet today some Islamic clerics bar women from driving, or cite religion as a reason to hack off the genitals of young girls. Buddha presumably would be aghast at the apartheid imposed on the Rohingya minority by Buddhists in Myanmar.
“Our religions often stand for the very opposite of what their founders stood for,” notes Brian D. McLaren, a former pastor, in a provocative and powerful new book, “The Great Spiritual Migration.”
Founders are typically bold and charismatic visionaries who inspire with their moral imagination, while their teachings sometimes evolve into ingrown, risk-averse bureaucracies obsessed with money and power. That tension is especially pronounced with Christianity, because Jesus was a radical who challenged the establishment, while Christianity has been so successful that in much of the world it is the establishment.
“No wonder more and more of us who are Christians by birth, by choice, or both find ourselves shaking our heads and asking, ‘What happened to Christianity?’” McLaren writes. “We feel as if our founder has been kidnapped and held hostage by extremists. His captors parade him in front of cameras to say, under duress, things he obviously doesn’t believe. As their blank-faced puppet, he often comes across as anti-poor, anti-environment, anti-gay, anti-intellectual, anti-immigrant and anti-science. That’s not the Jesus we met in the Gospels!”
This argument unfolds against a backdrop of religious ferment. The West has rapidly become more secular, with the “nones” — the religiously nonaffiliated, including atheists as well as those who feel spiritual but don’t identify with a particular religion — accounting for almost one-fourth of Americans today. The share is rising quickly: Among millennials, more than one-third are nones.
The rise of the nones seems to have been accompanied by a decline in public interest in doctrine. “One of the most religious countries on earth,” Stephen Prothero says in his book “Religious Literacy,” referring to the U.S., “is also a nation of religious illiterates.”
Only half of American Christians can name the four Gospels, only 41 percent are familiar with Job, and barely half of American Catholics understand Catholic teaching about the eucharist. Yet if Americans suspect that Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife, or wonder if the epistles were female apostles, then maybe the solution is to fret less about doctrines and more about actions.
“What would it mean for Christians to rediscover their faith not as a problematic system of beliefs but as a just and generous way of life, rooted in contemplation and expressed in compassion?” McLaren asks in “The Great Spiritual Migration.” “Could Christians migrate from defining their faith as a system of beliefs to expressing it as a loving way of life?”
That would be a migration away from religious bureaucracy and back to the moral vision of the founder, and it would be an enormous challenge. But religion can and does migrate.
“Because I grew up in a very conservative Christian context, we were always warned about changing the essential message,” McLaren told me. “But at the same time, we often missed how much actually had changed over time.” Christianity at times approved of burning witches and massacring heretics; thank goodness it has evolved!
As society has modernized and people have grown more skeptical of accounts of virgin birth or resurrection, one response has been to retreat from religion. Yet there’s also a deep impulse for spiritual connections.
McLaren advises worrying less about whether biblical miracles are literally true and thinking more about their meaning: If Jesus is said to have healed a leper, put aside the question of whether this actually happened and focus on his outreach to the most stigmatized of outcasts.
It is not just Christianity, of course, that is grappling with these questions. Rabbi Rick Jacobs, the president of the Union for Reform Judaism, said that he sees a desire for a social justice mission inspired and balanced by faith traditions.
“That’s where I see our path,” Jacobs said. “People have seen ritual as an obsession for the religious community, and they haven’t seen the courage and commitment to shaping a more just and compassionate world.”
If certain religious services were less about preening about one’s own virtue or pointing fingers at somebody else’s iniquity and more about tackling human needs around us, this would be a better world — and surely Jesus would applaud as well.
This may seem an unusual column for me to write, for I’m not a particularly religious Christian. But I do see religious faith as one of the most important forces, for good and ill, and I am inspired by the efforts of the faithful who run soup kitchens and homeless shelters.
Perhaps unfairly, the pompous hypocrites get the headlines and often shape public attitudes about religion, but there’s more to the picture. Remember that on average religious Americans donate far more to charity and volunteer more than secular Americans do.
It is not the bureaucracy that inspires me, or doctrine, or ancient rituals, or even the most glorious cathedral, temple or mosque, but rather a Catholic missionary doctor in Sudan treating bomb victims, an evangelical physician achieving the impossible in rural Angola, a rabbi battling for Palestinians’ human rights — they fill me with an almost holy sense of awe. Now, that’s religion.
Why are Kenya's churches and mosques turning yellow?
(CNN) — From the crowded streets of the Kibera slum to the steamy Mombasa coast, a peculiar trend has emerged across Kenya.
Mosques are changing their traditional green facades, churches ditching their typical modest hues and are opting instead for a loud, unmistakable -- some may say ostentatious -- yellow.
The project, called Color in Faith, is an effort to bring together Kenya's religious communities and is spearheaded by Colombian-American artist Yazmany Arboleda and his Kenyan counterpart Nabila Alibhai.
Religious leaders say the yellow makeover serves as a symbol.
"For me, yellow is the color of the sun and the sun shines above everybody," said Bishop Rose Mungafu. Her church in Mombasa recently partnered with the local Muslim community to paint the church yellow.
"We painted together to show our people that we as leaders are together and so Muslims will know Christians are brothers," Mungafu said. "Now everyone who passes by will know we are in peace."
It’s this kind of interfaith solidarity that Colombian artist Yazmany Arboleda and Nabila Alibhai, founder of a Nairobi-based civic group inCOMMONS, hope to engender in a civic art project where local communities paint mosques and churches across the country a bright yellow. The project, Colour in Faith, was completed earlier this month, with a total of five churches and four mosques or Muslim religious buildings bathed in what they call “optimistic yellow.”
“The idea is that these buildings are landmarks that celebrate pluralism and unity,” Arboleda told Quartz. Volunteers, often a mix of Christian and Muslim residents, paint the buildings with donated paint. “The idea was to explore religion and find commonalities with the hope to create a space for reflection.”
INTRODUCTION: A sacred space is any space or area that has been dedicated for a religious or sacred purpose. All world religions have places set aside that are treated as holy, and where individuals gather with utmost humility and respect to carry out prayers and rituals for spiritual development and growth. It is in these sacred spaces that individuals dedicate their time to detach themselves from the profane, and seek out special moments for peace and happiness by praying to their Creator.
The name for this sacred space differs according to faith. Christians have churches, monasteries, shrines, sanctuaries, and chapels. Muslims worship in mosques, as well as in khaneqahs and jamatkhanas, and Jews in synagogue. Buddhists and Hindus call their spaces temples. Often, mausoleums and burial sites of important saints become sacred places over a period of time, where people of different faith converge and offer their submissions to the saints for the resolution to their problems. In many instances individuals and families dedicate special rooms in their homes as sacred spaces, imitating the spaces in the same way as their prayer houses. The point remains the same: it is a place where believers can encounter God in a special way.
In my travels around the world, I have encountered numerous places of worship and sacredness, and I am delighted to share the pictures I have taken with readers of this blog. For the benefit of the readers I have compiled a very brief summary, where possible, of each world religion or faith in order to broaden the reader’s horizon of the photos that are shown.
Wanted: Leaders to Turn Interfaith Conflict Into Trust
This month, the F.B.I. reported that hate crimes against Muslims in 2015 reached their highest level since 2001. In New York City this year, hate crimes are tracking one-third higher than last year; against Muslims they have more than doubled.
The election of Donald J. Trump has highlighted religious tensions in America, particularly with Trump’s proposals to bar Muslims from entering the country and to create a registry of Muslims living in the United States. But these tensions did not begin with Trump. In America, virtually every form of faith or belief has at some point suffered unfavorable reception by others; the victims include Roman Catholics, Mormons, evangelical Christians, Jews and atheists, alongside Muslims.
Four years ago, I reported on the Interfaith Youth Core, which trains leaders to build relationships and respect between diverse faith communities. The work has expanded considerably. The organization now has more than 350 active campuses in its network, and more than 1,000 colleges have used its resources. This year its founder, Eboo Patel, explained in a book, Interfaith Leadership, what this type of leadership entails and why he considers it vital in today’s world. Patel, who is Muslim, recently spoke with me about democracy, the responsibilities of citizens, and his fears and hopes after this year’s election. Here are excerpts:
Interfaith Thanksgiving celebration underscores the diversity of Fort Bend County
“Interfaith is the new normal. This isn’t a luxury anymore. This is the new necessity.”
Until recently, there wasn’t a formal interfaith community in Fort Bend County. That changed with Lobel. When the rabbi moved to Missouri City in 2014, he contacted local religious groups to gauge interest in interfaith events. The best way to start, he concluded, was with an interfaith Thanksgiving service.
The first service was held in 2015. This year’s follow-up was, to put it simply, bigger and better.
Participants from six faith communities — Protestants, Catholics, Sunni Muslims, Ismaili Muslims, Reformed Jews and members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — spoke at the service. They gave readings in five different languages, which echoed in the high-ceilinged church that could hold nearly 1,000 people.
There was a collective murmur of awe after a four-person Ismaili choir finished singing a poem of praise in Urdu. A member of the LDS church recited the Litany of Thanksgiving in Chinese.
There were nods of agreement when every faith group spoke about their commitments to pluralism — whether during the homily or through verses from the Quran, Bible, Torah and Book of Mormon.
It was a service that resonated with different faiths without comprising their belief systems or values.
“It is the authentic faith of many, practiced in a civil way,” said Chappell Temple, lead pastor at Christ Church Sugar Land.
As for the differences between faiths? “The God I know is big enough to allow for those sorts of variations,” Temple said.
Why It’s Not Wrong to Wish Muslims Merry Christmas
ISTANBUL — Billions of Christians around the world are excited to celebrate Christmas this weekend. Those in the world’s second-largest religious community, Muslims, don’t share quite the same excitement. In a few Muslim-majority countries, like Saudi Arabia, Brunei and Somalia, Christmas celebrations are banned. In Turkey, my country, they are not illegal, but some Islamist groups still organize annual protests against Christmas trees and Santa Claus costumes, which they consider Western impositions.
Meanwhile, many other Muslims around the world are rightly respectful to their Christian neighbors and even share in their holy day. They include the owners of a Turkish restaurant in London that decided to offer a free Christmas meal to the homeless and the elderly, and a Muslim businessman in Baghdad who erected a Christmas tree in solidarity with Christians persecuted by the self-declared Islamic State.
These Christmas-friendly Muslims are right, but not simply because respect for other religions is a virtue. They are also right because Christmas is the celebration of the miraculous birth of Jesus, which is a powerful theme not just in the New Testament, but also in the Quran.
Two chapters of the Muslim holy book give detailed accounts of the birth of Jesus, which partly resemble the account in the Gospel of Luke.
Both chapters — one is named Maryam, or Mary — feature this admirable Jewish woman whom God has “purified” and “chosen above all other women.”
As the Quran narrates, an angel approached Mary one day and told her that God had decided to give her “a pure boy.” Mary objected: “How can I have a boy when no man has touched me?” The angel responded, “God creates whatever he wills.” Then God “breathes into Mary of our spirit,” and she conceives Isa, or Jesus.
There are, of course, ways in which the Muslim story of Jesus diverges from the Christian version that is celebrated at Christmas. The New Testament says that Jesus’ birth took place in Bethlehem, in a manger or at an inn, when Mary was with her husband, Joseph. In the Quran, Mary gave birth in “a distant place,” all alone and under a palm tree. It’s worth noting that stories appearing in the eastern apocryphal gospels, as well as recent archaeological findings, correspond to the Quran’s version of events.
Crucially, the Quran differs with the Bible on Jesus’ divinity. The Muslim holy book insists that he was a human and a prophet. It repeatedly defines Jesus as “the Messiah,” but this seems to be a notion of Messiah as described in Judaism: an extraordinary servant of God, not God incarnate. The Quran’s Jesus is also sent to the children of Israel, comes “confirming the Torah” and affirms a strictly unitarian monotheism. The Islamic Jesus, one could say, is a more Jewish Jesus.
Nonetheless, Islam and Christianity share a lot in their adoration for Isa and Maryam, Jesus and Mary. Muslims are in fact the only non-Christians on earth who believe that Jesus was born of a virgin.
For centuries, Muslims have taken this as a literal truth. Medieval exegetes of the Quran debated details like how God’s spirit was “breathed” into Mary, taking as truth that the virgin birth was an act of God. Sayyid Qutb, the 20th-century Egyptian fundamentalist, described Maryam’s pregnancy as “the strangest event that humanity throughout its history has ever witnessed.”
In a 2002 book they wrote to criticize Islam, Emir F. Caner and Ergun M. Caner, two Turkish converts to Christianity who became Southern Baptist ministers, argued that Muslims are more Christian on the issue of the virgin birth than the “liberal ‘Christians’ ” who seek metaphorical interpretations of the amazing miracle.
To add more to Jesus’ extraordinary nature, the Quran even calls him “Word of God.” Muslim scholars have been puzzled by this term, which the Quran uses for no one else. Christian theologians have been intrigued, too, for it evokes the Gospel of John, which defines Jesus as the Word of God who “became flesh and dwelt among us.”
Interpreting these parallels between the Quran and the earlier Christian sources depends partly on one’s faith. Christians can think Islam borrowed from their religion. Muslims, on the other hand, can think that much in Christianity foretold theirs. But we can all agree that these two great Abrahamic religions, despite the sometimes bitter conflicts between them, have much in common. This year, with tensions between many Muslims and Christians in Europe, the United States and elsewhere running high, that’s worth remembering.
The people in Saudi Arabia and Brunei who ban Christmas clearly have the wrong idea. Even if this is not a Muslim holiday, we don’t need to object to Christmas. The miraculous birth of Jesus — the prophet, the Messiah and the “Word” of God — should not offend any Muslim. Salaam alaikum, or “peace be upon you,” Muslims should be able to say to their Christian neighbors on Dec. 25, without hesitating to add, “Merry Christmas!”
A colleague of mine asked me what advice I would give Christians who would want to show allyship with Muslims, now and during the inevitable hate-fests that will emerge due to recent events.
Here are some quick thoughts on ways Christians can build rapport with Muslims.
1.Remember: Muslims Love Jesus.
It’s not just Jesus, but Mary as well, who is the only woman named in the Qur’an, the second most mentioned person in the Qur’an after Moses. She is also the only woman to have a chapter of the Qur’an named after her.
One of the wonderful passages about Jesus in the Qur’an is from the chapter of Mary. It says:
Indeed I am a servant of Allah! He has given me the Book and made me a prophet.
He has made me blessed, wherever I may be, and He has enjoined me to prayer and to be charitable as long as I live,
and to be good to my mother, and He has not made me self-willed and wretched.
Peace is to me the day I was born, and the day I die, and the day I am raised alive. (19:30–33)
Author photo of NYC Climate March — https://flic.kr/p/p3Teuh
This advice is meant in a literal sense. People are less likely to be harassed if they are traveling in a group. In Sydney, the #IllRideWithYou campaign recognized that Muslim women and children, in particular, were being attacked and bullied on the transit system when they were by themselves.
Make a social event out of going to the grocery store, picking kids up from school or even an actual social event, like going to the movies.
At this point, unfortunately, donning items like the hijab are not as helpful, as it feeds into the idea that everyone is becoming Muslim. It’s better to show our ideals as Americans living together.
3. Let’s Engage
The best way for us to build a community is to engage with one another. That means in social ways, but also intellectually. Find good books, talks or programs that show what it means to build a pluralistic society, where we use our differences as a strength.
As it pertains to the American-Muslim experience, G. Willow Wilson’s memoir of conversion, A Butterfly Mosque, helps explain both the tradition and the appeal of the religion to Muslims.
More academic works include Carl Ernst’s Following Muhammad and Richard Bulliet’s The Case for Islamo-Christian Civilization. If videos are more your thing, check out UPF or the work of Musa Syeed. And on the music front, you’ve got Muslim Hip-hop artists like K’naan, Yasiin Bey and Lupe Fiasco.
4. Explain Yourself And Build Empathy
One of the pitfalls of interfaith work is that minority groups are expected to explain themselves, and that can make for awkward conversations.
Host an event where you explain who you are and what you believe and how you got there. When you turn the lens on yourself, you are inviting other participants to reflect back to you their own stories and questions.
Making yourself the Other increases empathy. We are all strangers to one another, sometimes even to ourselves.
Huston Smith, Author of ‘The World’s Religions,’ Dies at 97
Huston Smith, a renowned scholar of religion who pursued his own enlightenment in Methodist churches, Zen monasteries and even Timothy Leary’s living room, died on Friday at his home in Berkeley, Calif. He was 97.
His wife, Kendra, confirmed his death.
Professor Smith was best known for “The Religions of Man” (1958), which has been a standard textbook in college-level comparative religion classes for half a century. In 1991, it was abridged and given the gender-neutral title “The World’s Religions.” The two versions together have sold more than three million copies.
The book examines the world’s major faiths as well as those of indigenous peoples, observing that all express the Absolute, which is indescribable, and concluding with a kind of golden rule for mutual understanding and coexistence: “If, then, we are to be true to our own faith, we must attend to others when they speak, as deeply and as alertly as we hope they will attend to us.”
“It is the most important book in comparative religious studies ever,” Stephen Prothero, a professor of religion at Boston University, said in an interview.
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